Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Casual Dinners and a Fabric Fest

I missed my usual post on Monday, but I didn't want to let a week go by without a fresh post. Although I'm short on time and not feeling particularly inspired this evening to do much writing, I have been cooking and sewing a great deal and couldn't resist popping in to show you what I've been up to.

Last holiday season, I was in a big baking mood and ordered specialty baking ingredients online. I almost never buy ingredients or food online so this was quite exceptional. Let's just say the King Arthur catalog sucked me in. Well, one of the things I bought was Italian-style flour- perfect, they said, for making pizzas and focaccia and such. As it often happens, special ingredients sit there waiting for a special occasion that may or may not ever arrive.

So last Sunday, on a very ordinary non-special kind of evening, when I had a friend and her little daughters coming over for a casual play date and supper, I broke into the flour and finally used some of it. But special flour called for a new recipe at the very least, so I tried this no-knead cornmeal crust from the authors of those 5 minutes a day bread books.

I made the dough in the mid-morning and it truly took about 5 minutes and minimal effort to put together. I halved the recipe for the cornmeal olive oil dough, and used 50:50 all purpose flour and that special Italian pizza flour. Making the dough meant mixing a bunch of ingredients and leaving it on the counter-top for a couple of hours, then sticking the covered bowl in the fridge. Couldn't be easier.

Then I made a simple pizza sauce with canned crushed tomatoes, some olive oil and Italian herbs and plenty of garlic, of course.

When the time came to bake the pizza, I generously buttered a large baking sheet (preferring that to a cast iron pan because I needed a large pizza for 3 adults and 3 hungry pizza-loving kids). The recipe called for rolling out the crust on the counter top and then laying it on the baking sheet. Well, that did not work for me at all. What did work was just plopping a lump of dough into the baking sheet and patting it into place.

Then I layered the toppings: going with Chicago-style pizza tradition, I first layered mozzarella cheese, then the sauce, followed by a light sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. The pizza was baked according to the recipe, then I topped it with some freshly snipped basil after it came out of the oven.

We enjoyed the pizza with a salad of spinach, red peppers and shredded carrots with a balsamic vinegar-mustard dressing. I adore the combination of pizza and this particular salad. Cornmeal is a magical ingredient in pizza crust. It truly makes the crust so tender and light. Here's a picture of leftovers that I happily devoured for lunch the next day:

Then a couple of days ago, I was again in the mood to try a new recipe. Mind you, a new recipe but with familiar ingredients that I already had on hand. Enter this recipe for Snobby Joe's, a take on Sloppy Joe's but using lentils. Just our good old masoor/ brown lentils, but with a different flavor profile from mustard and maple syrup.

Among the many reasons lentils are wonderful is this one: they cook readily and quickly. I did soak them for a few hours which sped up the cooking even more. Then I followed the recipe, but added the lentils and some water to the sauteed onions and peppers and let it all simmer together instead of cooking the lentils separately. One less pot to wash, plus the lentils absorb flavor beautifully as they cook. I used grainy Dijon mustard instead of yellow mustard. And do note that the chili powder called for in the recipe is American chili powder which is a blend of mild chillies, garlic, salt etc. and can be found in supermarkets. If you use Indian chili powder, you won't want to use 3 tbsp as the recipe calls for!

This is one tasty recipe- I absolutely loved the way these favors worked together. I've been piling on these snobby joe's on buttered bread with a bit of cheese and melting it together into one delicious grilled sandwich.

So, anyway, those are two bookmarked recipes that I'm glad I tried and that I highly recommend.

Meanwhile, my sewing has finally taken off. Now that I know how to do basic stuff like changing the bobbin, sewing is not such an uphill battle any more. I'm sewing more seams than I'm ripping apart. Of course, it is all possible because kind crafters share free patterns and advice and tutorials on their blogs and websites- I'm much obliged to them!

I got so carried away with enthusiasm one evening that I even made a pillowcase dress for Lila. The inspiration for the watermelon look came from a pic I saw online and the helpful pattern is from here.

Another favorite little project from recent weeks has been this tea wallet. I've made several to give as gifts. Once I made one I just could not stop. The excellent tutorial is from here. I don't know- there's something ridiculously cute about a tiny wallet for carrying around little tea bags. And this wallet fits business cards and credit cards perfectly too.

Making the tea wallet opened up a world of projects for me because they had several steps in common. One was this crayon tote. A tote that a child can carry around to restaurants, car rides etc. and then open up to reveal crayons and coloring books. Art on the go!

Here's another one: a car roll that opens up to reveal garages where one can tuck little cars and then when the mood strikes, zoom zoom, they can hit the build-in roads.
I'll be back next week with the results of my fridge and freezer cleaning. Have a great week!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Challenge: Chill Out and Clean That Fridge

In yesterday's post, I talked about reading a book and feeling a renewed enthusiasm for clearing out my fridge and pantry, to keep food organized, use it up in a timely way and to minimize waste.

Cleaning out the fridge is not a particularly exciting chore and one that is very easy to put off. To make things just a little bit fun and build up some motivation, I'm posting this challenge online so maybe we can do it together.
A pic of my fridge from 6 years ago!! I still have these kinds of "zones"
in my current fridge but we haven't bought OJ for years.
Here's the plan, to be done separately for the fridge and the freezer. It does not all have to be done at once, this clean-up can be done 15 minutes at a time over a few days.

  1. Look at the contents and take inventory of what you have in there.
  2. Anything that is spoiled or beyond its usable life, throw it out. Sometimes we shove these things in the back of the fridge/freezer to avoid dealing with the guilt of throwing it out, but it has got to go.
  3. Anything that needs to be used up, gather it together, and think of ways to use it up in the next few days. You can leave comments on this post asking for ideas. Or look up recipes online.
  4. Don't forget the fridge door, which is usually littered with condiments that look like they last forever but don't. If you're unlikely to use a condiment again, toss it out. 
  5. Give the empty fridge/freezer a good wipe down and restock it, organizing food in a logical way. A place for everything and everything in its place. That's an oldie but goodie.

While you're doing the fridge clean-up, fill out this little survey:

  • A before picture of your fridge:
  • The most unusual/exotic/interesting item in your fridge:
  • Three items you always have in your fridge:
  • The oldest item in your fridge: 
  • Item(s) from the fridge that needed to be used and how you used it/them up in meals or recipes:
  • An after picture of your fridge:
Ditto for the freezer...
  • A before picture of your freezer:
  • The most unusual/exotic/interesting item in your freezer:
  • Three items you always have in your freezer:
  • The oldest item in your freezer: 
  • Item(s) from the freezer that needed to be used and how you used it/them up in meals or recipes:
  • An after picture of your freezer:

You certainly don't have to get to all these questions! Just tell us and show us what you want to.

If you have a blog, you could write a post about your fridge and freezer clean up and e-mail me a link to your post.

If you don't have a blog (or even if you do but don't feel like posting this project), you can e-mail me your answers/photos, at onehotstove AT gmail DOT com

The deadline for e-mailing me is Sunday, Aug 4th. On Monday, August 5th, I'll write a post telling you about my fridge/freezer clean up and include all the e-mails and links sent to me.

I'll leave you with a few inspiring/informative articles related to this project:
NPR: Don't Fear That Expired Food
The Kitchn: Fridge-Clearing Cooking, Fridge Efficiency Tips
Apartment Therapy: How To Clean A Fridge, How to Organize a Fridge

Monday, July 22, 2013

Better Living Through Cooking

Earlier this month, the toddler population of my household doubled. The way toddler math works is that a two-fold increase in toddlers corresponds to a ten-fold increase in general chaos. So let's just say that life has been busy and crazy and very, very entertaining since we became a family of four (again).

Say hello to the newest member of the One Hot Stove family. Duncan is a 7 month old, 50 lb. Plott hound- Labrador mix. We had never heard of Plott hounds. A bit of web searching told us that yes, Duncan most certainly looks like a Plott hound. It is an American breed of hound and as it happens, the state dog of North Carolina, the next state over. Plott hounds have a brindled coat, that tiger-stripey, salt and pepper look.

Apparently, Plott hounds were bred to be bear hunting dogs. Our Duncan is a lover, not a hunter. Look at that face. I will say that he has tried to dismember a couple of Lila's stuffed animals!

Lila calls him "Sweet Duncan" and "Dunkie Boy"
When we were ready to adopt a dog, we contacted the local canine rescue group. They have a network of volunteer foster families around town. What the group does is that they visit local animal shelters- these tend to be overcrowded, underfunded and loud, stressful places. They take dogs from shelters and put them in foster homes in a caring family environment, and then find permanent families for these dogs using adoption events, social media and their website. When you apply to adopt a particular dog, you get a week's trial to see if the dog and family are happy together, and only then is the adoption finalized. This feature turned out to be very important for us because the first dog we were given a trial with was not a good fit (he was a sweetheart but there were several other issues). The second one, as it turned out, was perfect.

We had explained that we were looking for a dog with an easy-going temperament who will be loving and tolerant of a toddler's awkward hugs and unexpected ear tugs. Because you know that as much as you remind a 2 year old to be gentle-gentle, they lack impulse control and you need a calm, big-hearted dog who can take it all in stride. We said we would be just fine with an older dog and that we prefer big breeds. Then we sat back and waited to see what dog the universe would send our way.

It seems that Duncan was abandoned in a neighboring rural county when he was a young pup and was found and sent to a shelter. The adoption coordinator e-mailed us excitedly and told us she thought Duncan would be a great fit for our family, and even though he is much younger than we expected, he really is perfect and we feel so very lucky to have him. He already had been given the name Duncan in the shelter and we think it fits him so we did not change it. V briefly considered naming him "Hobbes" after the tiger in Calvin and Hobbes but nah, he's a Duncan.

Duncan is a cuddle-bug and he has been following me around everywhere like a...well, puppy. Yes, I see now why they coined that expression. Whether I'm reading, cooking, typing or sewing, he's right there at my feet. I have a feeling you'll hear more about this pup in future posts (whether you want to or not, LOL) so let's move on to books and food now.

Image: Goodreads
Last week, Duncan and I snuggled up and read a book called The Kitchen Counter Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn. With a sub-title of "How a few simple lessons transformed nine culinary novices into fearless home cooks", this book is a combination of memoir, manifesto and cookbook in the one-year-project genre which is so popular these days, but which I seem to enjoy reading about anyway.

Flinn was a new graduate of the world's most famous cooking school in Paris but found herself struggling with the question of what to do next with her culinary diploma. While out buying groceries at the supermarket, she noticed the grocery cart of the mother-daughter duo shopping alongside her, piled high with boxes and jars of frozen and dried processed food. Flinn struck up a conversation with them and came away thinking about how many people are not buying and eating whole foods because they simply lack basic kitchen skills and knowledge.

And so she gathered a group of nine volunteers, all women of different ages and ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds and spend a year giving them cooking lessons. The book is an engaging and accessible description of this year-long project. It started off with home visits to each volunteer's home, and an audit of their kitchens, pantries, refrigerators and cooking skills- she had them fix a lunch that they typically eat. Then came a year of cooking lessons and another audit a few months after the lessons ended, to see if there had been any changes in the way the participants shopped and cooked and ate. Most participants saw big changes in their lifestyles while a few remained hesitant and unwilling/unable to change.

Now, any book that it telling me about the value of cooking skills is simply preaching to the choir. But the book was an inspiring read because of the sheer variety of subjects it covers. After all, a home cook has to be a jack of all trades- with some knife skills, and some knowledge of basic dishes and how to play around to make variations of them, and there's all the mental work of menu planning around a busy schedule. Most of all, a home cook needs the self-assurance that while the food industry does everything it can to convince us that there's better living through sophisticated food chemistry, the best living for our health, taste-buds and wallets is through cooking from scratch, plain and simple.

One of the things the author mentions is what she calls "flavor profiles". It means that you can start with a basic ingredient (the one she uses is chicken breasts) and spin it in different directions by using a different combination of seasonings- soy sauce and ginger for a Japanese-inspired version, pesto and mozzarella for Italian and so on. She even has a handy cheat sheet of the flavor profiles. I found myself nodding because I certainly use these tricks to churn out distinct dishes from the same suite of ingredients that I use day after day. For instance, take beans, onions and peppers. Add cumin, oregano, adobo sauce and cilantro to make "Mexican" quesadillas. Add tadka, curry leaves and garam masala to make a dal. Toss with basil and tomato sauce to make "Italian" sauce for paste. Authentic or not, it is a simple way to make interesting meals with pantry staples day after day after day.

The most sobering chapter for me was The Secret Language of Kitchens in which Flinn made initial home visits and inspected the fridges of the project volunteers. Sobering and depressing because of the sheer scale of food waste that is described. I'll just give two examples that I read in this chapter. One participant explains that she and her husband shop in warehouse clubs where you pay less to buy large packages of foods. So it is cheaper to buy a pack of 4 romaine lettuce heads, say, even if you KNOW you can use only two and throw two away. Still cheaper than buying two at regular price. This particular person works for an aid organization helping poverty-stricken people. Cognitive dissonance, much? Another participant has so much food in her freezer that she discovers frozen meat at the bottom of the freezer, long expired, that had been bought for a camping trip three years earlier. She had simply forgotten about it. Now it all has to go in the trash. Both these attitudes bothered me more than I can say.

But we all know that even people who care very much about not wasting food can still waste food. It happens. An over-full fridge with leftovers rotting in the back. Greens bought with pious intentions that never get cooked. Exotic ingredients that you don't know how to use.

Starting tomorrow, I'm doing a small, manageable project to clean out my own kitchen and eat down the food in it. Want to join me? Check back for a fresh post tomorrow and we can work on it together.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Spice and Something Nice- The Goodies from Round Two!

A few weeks ago, I announced the second round of the Spice and Something Nice Swap, where you send a gift and get a gift and maybe even make a new friend. Over 90 people responded and in the end, we had swappers in 5 countries.

The swapping is certainly fun for the senders and receivers but I wanted everyone else to be part of it too, so here's a peek at all the goodies. We are traveling East to West, from Australia to India and then to the UK and Canada with a final stop in the US.


Suchi received from Anu: Chutney Powder, a novel, white chocolate mocha and a book for Suchi's baby.

Anu received from Suchi: Karnataka style rasam powder which is her mom's recipe, clutch purse, chocolate frogs and hair clips for Anu's kids.

Shruti G. received from Shruti N. Gojju masala, with recipe, red tea towel and Asian treats/sweetmeats.

Shruti N. received from Shruti G. a lovely pair of earrings, chaat masala and a card.


Raji received from Sneha: Kolhapuri masala and a box of acrylic colors.

Sneha received from Raji: Vaangi bhath spice mix and recipe, local snacks- Congress kadlikai (spicy peanuts), spicy roasted bean mixture, coconut poli, and a hand-painted pen.

Archana received from Charul: Rajasthani style 'khada masala' used for making bhajiyas, with the recipe for it, cute forks and spoons as food props and a little plate for Archana's son.

Charul received from Archana: Rasam powder, taco spice, chopsticks, napkin.

Anusha received from Pragati: Thai red curry paste, vadiams, granola bars, and breadsticks (all homemade), a cute apron, and a dress for Anusha's little one, and a bottle of body mist.

Pragati received from Anusha: Homemade sambar powder and gun powder along with a book, Dakshin - Vegetarian Cuisine from South India by Chandra Padmanabham. 

Aarti sent this to Harini: Homemade spice mix for Achaari arbi along with a recipe, a block printed silk scarf and a book of timeless short stories. 

Aarti received from Harini:  Homemade sambar powderkarivepallai (curry leaves) powder to mix with rice or use as chutney, recipes for using both the spices, homemade cookies

Ira received from Premika: Homemade chutney podia cute lil Japanese doll, heart shaped cookie cutters, stickers, a candle and 2 bars of dairy milk chocolate.

Premika received from Ira: Yummy homemade cereal 'Good morning Granola' and a beautiful vanilla bean.

Sreedevi received from Jayashree: Sambhar powder and falooda mix.

Jayashree received from Ritu:  Chaat masala & a green and white striped cotton towel.

United Kingdom

Abhi received from Archana: Pappula Podi and garlicky and coconutty Senaga Podi, and chocolate-flavoured bath stuff from Body Shop.

Archana received from Abhi: Achari baingan spice mix and an origami kit.


Surekha received from Anu: Podina masala and spray-on body lotions.

Anu received from Nikhila: Herbes de ProvenceFriendship Garden Starter kit  and a perfumed verbana sachet.

Nikhila received from Surekha: Homemade idly chutney powder and thalipeeth bhajani flour along with a cute little Ganesha.

United States

Neha received from Sharmila: Dhansak masala, herbes de Provence, spicy apple chutney and beautiful napkin ring holders.

Sharmila received from Neha: Scotch bonnet hot pepper sauce, sofrito, Sazón seasoning, guava paste and Lindt dark chocolate w/orange.

Mandira received from Nisha: Shobhatai's masala which is shipped to her regularly by her parents and cosmetic products from her newly launched business - Kimaya Skin Care. 

Nisha received from Mandira: Panch-phoron, a bottle of mixed pickle from India, a green jute bag with applique and a Dr. Seuss book for the children.

Chaitanya received from Angela: A package of Zatar, and some recipes to use the spice, the most recent issue of Sunset magazine, and Ghirardelli milk chocolate with sea salt.

Angela received from Chaitanya: Two spice mixes- Vangi bath powder and Poriyal podi and habanero jelly.

Shilpa received from Lakshmi: Saffron and a book.

Minoti received from Priya: Homemade sambar powder, a Japanese spice mixture, handy grater to make quick salads and a beautiful needle case made by Priya herself. 
Priya received from Minoti: Knitting supplies- needles and stitch markers, 2 beautiful hand painted bookmarks, and 2 pairs of her hand made ear rings (in a cute little drawstring bag), Malwani masala and Maharashtrian Goda masala.

Pavani received from Sonali: Sambar masala, handmade organizer, Dr. Seuss book & a rattle

Sonali received from Pavani: Honey and oatmeal soap, rainbow peppercorns and all-purpose curry powder.

Anjali received from Jill: A thought-provoking book, a packet of Muruku and 2 spices from Pampered Chef.

Jill received from Anjali: Chat masala and garlic chutney and two bundles of Imagine yarn and knitting needles for a new scarf project.

Fatima received from Monica: pretty necklace, boondi ladoo, homemade curry leaf powder and red chili masala.  

Monica received from Fatima: A small handbag, pani puri masala, mango pickle and tomato pickle, spicy masala powder and mangi bite candy

Sunitha received from Chaitali: Thai red curry sauce along with a recipe for a quick and yummy thai fried rice, fruit cakeinfinity scarf, matching necklace and earrings

Chaitali received from Sunitha: Chocolates and shortbread cookies and organic oregano and allspice.

Isha received from Sandhiya: Homemade rasam powder and idli powder with recipes, pendant and earrings set and dark chocolate.

Sandhiya received from Isha: Sumac from Turkey, a dhokla maker and Turkish evil eye. 

Gayatri received from Snehal: Middle Eastern Za'atar Mix with recipe, homemade herb mix (to dip bread in), a scarf and a portable water bottle

Snehal received from Gayatri: A bookWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, body lotion and 'Paach Masala' - a smoky and hot five spice mix made in her family. 

Danni received from Bethany: Shan spice mix for Tandoori Chicken BBQ, Aveda hand relief cream, packets of Emergen-C Pink Lemonade.

Bethany received from Danni: Wild rice and mushroom soup mix, a jar candle, bookmark, a joint support supplement, a bread dip seasoning and dipping bowl, a hand made pillowcase and several recipes.

Vandana received from Gayatri: Bottle masala and Gardeners hand therapy cream.

Gayatri received from Vandana: Homemade garam masala, dhansak masala and a recipe book from Tarla Dalal, Eggless Desserts.

Snehal received from Mamta: Fish masala, sambar masala with recipe and colorful measuring spoons.

Mamta received from Snehal: Saffron, pencil colors for sketching, and a notepad.

Kelly received from Shilpa: Pav bhaji masala, mango pickle and earrings.

Shilpa received from Kelly: Kalonji seeds with a recipe, beer nuts and a mug.

Divya received from Chhaya: Home made cookies, kitchen towel, measuring spoons, bisibele bath mix, Kitchen King masala, baby spoon set and 2 potholders.

Chhaya received from Divya: Pappula podi, karvepak podi (curry leaf powder chutney), sago crisps, and fragrant talc and a letter pouch.

Ruchita received from Anupama: South Indian dry chutneys (Kandi Podi, Idli Podi and Sesame Podi), tea, lavender-oatmeal soap, dark chocolate bar with sea salt and almonds.

Anupama received from Ruchita: Maharashtrian and Goan masalas including Goan masala, Goda masala, CKP masala, dry chutney powder and red chilly powder. And a bracelet, key chain, purse and pouch.

Rukmini received from Prashanti: I got some chocolates, farsan & two spices.

Jayeeta received from Sahiti: Baking book and spice mix.

Priti received from Gajalakshmi: 'All in One' chili powder, home made Idli Milagai Podi, a Yankee 'Pineapple Cilantro' fragrance and a novel 'The School of Essential Ingredients' by Erica Bauermeister.

Gajalakshmi received from Priti: Badshah chicken masala, seed packets of zinnia, petunia & dahlia, brownie decorating kit and her homemade box of spicy chivda and her 'Indianised' baklava.

Nila received from Kim: A Japanese- Hawaiian themed package with pineapple biscuit sticks, Kona coffee biscuit sticks, chocolatehomemade salt seasoningMaui onion Ponzu Hawaiian dressing
and Passion fruit butter.

Kim received from Nila: A bread cookbookdosa mixtamarind rice powdersweet ginger spice mixmoong dal snacksalmon rub from Seattle, Indian candies.

Shriya received from Smita: Strawberry huller, a peeler and a cute onesie set, amchur, kokum and Konkani fish curry masala.

Smita received from Shriya: Sumac and Zaatar, embroidered handbag, butter spreader, tamarind candy and chocolate.

Finally, I received barbecue sauce and a set of abstract drawings from Anne.

And Anne received chana masala spice, peanut sesame curry masala, chivda, a scarf and mug rug from me.

So, what are you drooling over? Is there anything here that you wish you'd received? Don't say "everything" :) I'm getting so many ideas for adorable and tasty gifts from looking at these goodies.

Now, we are all essentially strangers on the Internet and I suppose I should be pretty shocked and excited that most of these swaps work out as well as they do. And I am amazed and happy, believe me. But I do have to say that with over a dozen people in this round, there have been prolonged delays, and failures to communicate, and worst of all, a couple of who received their swaps but have failed to send out a swap :( All of which I am trying to resolve behind the scenes, ugh. This is the entirely-not-fun part of swap hosting.

But these swaps are too much fun for those who DO follow the swap rules and timelines and who DO put together packages with love and care, so we'll have more in the future. Maybe a holiday goodies swap in October? I'm thinking of the trays of Diwali faraal we exchanged....

Perhaps my biggest take-away from these swaps is that to send a small gift, and get a little treat in the mail- these are some of life's biggest joys. We truly don't have to wait for an official swap to put a little happiness in the mailbox and make someone's day.

See you next week with regular programming. Oh, and I'll also introduce you to our new puppy in the next post!